A statement on his Facebook page posted by his family said the 84-year-old “passed away this morning due to complications from COVID-19.”
“He was fully vaccinated,” they said.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and great American. “
NBC News quoted spokesperson Peggy Cifrino and a family member as saying he was at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Maryland at the time of his death, suffering from multiple myeloma.
Mr. Powell was the first African American Secretary of State and the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During his time as Secretary of State, from 2001 to 2005, this was the highest level an African American had ever reached in the federal executive branch of the US government, until Barack Obama becomes president.
The Secretary of State is fourth after the President in line of succession, and only Condoleeza Rice held the same role the year before Mr. Obama was elected.
Prior to becoming the chief American diplomat, he was best known for his role in front of the camera during the First Gulf War, where as the highest ranking military officer and the most senior of the armed forces of the United States , he was informing the media of the liberation of Kuwait, then the push towards Iraq, in what has been described as the first 24-hour televised war.
This 1991 war, in which General Powell was then serving under George HW Bush, was generally considered a success as it expelled Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait with limited American loss of life.
But Mr. Powell was later appointed Secretary of State under the leadership of his son, George W Bush, who embarked on the Second Gulf War in 2003.
Mr. Bush paid tribute to Mr. Powell by saying: “Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great civil servant, starting with his time as a soldier in Vietnam. Many presidents have relied on the advice and experience of General Powell. .
“He was National Security Advisor under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my administration.
“He was such a favorite of presidents that he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected in his country and abroad. And most importantly, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man. “
Also as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he oversaw the US invasion of Panama, but his reputation suffered a painful setback when he appeared before the UN Security Council to advocate in favor of the US war against Iraq in 2003, claiming it was necessary because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
During this meeting, he affirmed that “the facts and the behavior of Iraq show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction”.
But that was a claim that turned out to be false and he later admitted that the speech was a “stain” on his record.
The invasion of Iraq in the Second Gulf War, which the speech aimed to justify, remains highly controversial, with many citing the unintended deadly consequences that occurred as a result of the conflict.
Other members of the African-American community have paid tribute to him.
Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton said on Twitter: “My condolences to the family of Colin Powell. Although we
disagreed on many issues, I have always respected him and was proud of his accomplishments. When he and I met and chatted, I always left thinking that he was a sincere man and committed to what he believed in. RIP “
Prior to his appointment as Secretary of State, Mr. Powell worked for a national nonprofit organization that worked to mobilize Americans to build the character and capacities of young people.
It was around this time, after retiring from the military in 1993, that he took part in civic life and attended the dinner where Princess Diana won the Humanitarian of the Year award in New York.